Google announced a bunch of new gadgets at a press event in New York City on Tuesday, including the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL phones, a new Nest Wi-Fi system that doubles as a smart home speaker, Pixel Buds to compete with AirPods and a laptop called the Chromebook Go.
I had a chance to check them out briefly at the event. Here are my first impressions.
Google's Pixel phones haven't sold as well as many other Android devices, but it's time people take notice. The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are really nice high-end phones that start at $799.
The new Soli "radar" technology, which lets you make swiping gestures over the screen to dismiss alarms or skip music on Spotify, felt like a gimmick in my quick hands-on. It's not something I plan to use, but maybe if more apps support it I'll find a reason to try.
I was more impressed how the radar was able to detect my hand moving toward the phone. When it did, the screen lit up and then unlocked when I looked at it. It felt as fast as Apple's Face ID, if not faster, and is a nice security bump for Android users who have had to rely on fingerprint recognition for more secure unlocking until now.
I like big screens so I'm most excited for the larger Pixel 4 XL, but most people will probably find the smaller Pixel 4 good enough. My only complaint is that both phones start with 64GB of storage, which just isn't enough for storing lots of apps and high-def movies these days.
The phone felt light, maybe because I'm so used to the heavy iPhone 11 Pro Max. I like the soft-touch rubber back, but worry it might get dirty over time. The new 90hz display is impressive, and means there's no sort of jitter or lag when you're scrolling through pictures, websites or Twitter. It's one of those things you really only notice once you see it.
I'm looking forward to reviewing it. Google made a lot of promises about the cameras, specifically the ability to capture stars at night and to zoom clearly. But my first impressions are really positive.
Google was one of the first companies to adopt mesh networking, which covers your house in a Wi-Fi blanket using several Wi-Fi points instead of just one. It was quick to the market after start-up Eero pioneered the technology; Eero was acquired by Amazon and now forms the basis of Amazon's home Wi-Fi products.
The new Nest Wi-Fi succeeds Google Wi-Fi and adds a really awesome new function: support for Google Assistant and the ability to double as a speaker. Since you have all these pucks spread around your house anyway, now they can give you information, like traffic or the weather or sports scores, and also play music -- while still serving as a hotspot for improving your Wi-Fi. It's clever, and it makes a lot of sense for Google. It also makes me wonder why Amazon hasn't added Alexa to Eero.
I didn't get to test the Nest Wi-Fi yet, but I like the size of it. It kind of feels like an oversized egg. And Google says it's made out of recycled plastic bottles, which is nice if you care about how much waste your gadgets create.
Google also introduced the new Pixelbook Go, a laptop that starts at $650. I haven't been really bullish on Chromebooks in the past since they just feel like I'm using a laptop with a Chrome web browser and not much else (OK, some Android apps.) I've had trouble connecting to my work VPN in the past, too, so I can't really do work on them the way I can on a MacBook or Windows laptop.
But the Pixelbook Go feels and looks nice. The bottom feels like a Ruffles potato chip, with a nice textured grip. And the keyboard seemed really easy to type on, which is more than I can say for Apple's latest MacBooks. It has a sharp and colorful display and Intel processors, but I still can't quite understand why it costs so much. I feel like people are used to spend $300 to $400 on really good Chromebooks, and enthusiasts might buy the far more expensive $999 Pixelbook.
Anyway, if you spend most of your time in Chrome, and you don't have limitations at work, this seems like a pretty good laptop. Just don't expect to get all the apps you do from Windows or Mac machines.
The Pixel Buds are Google's take on Apple's popular AirPods.
These are a successor to the original Pixel Buds, which came out two years ago and were pretty awful: they were uncomfortable, didn't translate very well (as promised) and didn't sound great.
The new Pixel Buds aren't working yet, so I couldn't touch them or put them in my ears to actually get a sense for what they're like. But they look nice, with rubber tips that should help them stay in people's ears, particularly for folks who have trouble with Apple's plastic AirPods. Unlike the last version, there's no string connecting the two buds.
I'm excited to learn more about these before they launch in 2020 for $179, but Google has lots of competition: Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung and Apple all have competitors, and so do more entrenched audio companies, like Bose, Bang & Olufsen and Sony.